Forty years ago today, Brian and I were officially engaged!
In the winter of the Blizzard of ’78, this day was cold with plenty of snow on the ground. For several weeks that season, I slept nights on the living room sofa of my brother and SIL Tim and Jeannie in Liberty.
Brian and I had been talking about marriage for a while, and were privately engaged. The ring was selected after Christmas. It needed sized, and what better time to make things official than with a Valentine's Day debut!
After work that day, I arrived at the home on East Seminary Street in Liberty where Brian rented a spacious apartment in the upstairs of landlady Mary Snyder. He was visiting downstairs with Mary.
“Your ring’s upstairs,” he said when I arrived. I went up, found the box, and brought it back down for the two of them to admire.
There was no band, no knee proposal, no asking my dad for my hand. But I knew that we loved each other and all these years later, there's no one I would rather come home to.
Forty years ago it was official, and soon came the engagement photo in the newspaper, obligatory back in that era.
Come October, God willing, we’ll be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. But on that February day so long ago, I couldn’t imagine the double-digit anniversary numbers that we have today. It was simply too far into the future to even imagine. I couldn’t anticipate that four decades from that day, on our mind would be Brian’s signing up for Medicare and Social Security this week and I’d be wrapping my mind around the idea of turning 60 this year.
Last night I helped friend Patti decorate Valentine cookies that she planned to put out as a surprise for her coworkers in the teachers’ lounge today. By the time I got to her house, she and her little niece had decorated most of the hearts in bright colors. I added a few to the stack. Life is full of pattern and color and the unexpected—like those cookies that are no doubt by now gone!
On Monday, my Bible Study Fellowship group leader had old-fashioned Valentines for all of us. Not only Valentines, but red suckers attached. I don’t know how long it’s been since someone gave me that combo. The little card took me back to the fun we had in elementary school on this day.
Whether your Valentine’s Day comes with candy, hearts, a diamond engagement ring, or not, may the day remind us all of special loves, past, present and sometimes, those that are one and the same.
Well, I was wrong.
I thought most of my loved ones were starting to think that Christmas cards were remnants of the past; that social media platforms and cell phone texts had taken the place of trips to the store to select cards, then to the post office to choose theme stamps and taking the time to look up addresses and mail off cards.
I thought this last year. So I quietly decided that instead of spending a month of Sundays getting cards ready, I vowed to send cards only to those who sent them to us first. For a while there, things were going as expected. There were a few die-hards, greetings from my kindergarten teacher Miss Kalter in Ohio and Brian's Aunt Janis in Louisiana. Probably the other regulars, though, had similar thoughts to mine. So, I continued to hold out. I put together cards for my Bible study friends and a card for a friend in Ohio whose hobby is card-making.
If mail call continued as expected, I'd finish my few cards and be done.
But as Christmas neared, the mailbox filled up daily. There were so many cards, some with long, detailed letters about accomplishments of everyone in the family, some written on beautiful holiday paper. The cards snowballed like a January snowstorm and with Christmas fast approaching on a Sunday, and prep needing done for the big day, I found myself out of time.
I briefly considered sending cards late, once everything settled down. But to me, a late Christmas card is like carving a pumpkin on Nov. 1 or getting a Christmas tree on Dec. 26. So I did what to some of you will find rude: I let it go.
This year I thought perhaps our friends and loved ones whose cards were not reciprocated last year would scratch us from their address books. But no! The cards are coming again. They come from a range of age groups from those in their early 30s all the way to those in their 80s.
It appears that rumors of the Christmas card's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I went out and bought a fresh box the other day. There's enough in there that will allow me to finish carding everyone who cards us first.
Perhaps next year I'll return to my old ways. In the old days, picking out the cards was a ritual. Then I I tucked them with Christmas stamps and the address book into a tote bag and worked on the addressing whenever I had a little time. Chilly Sunday afternoons and weeknight evenings found me working on cards with updates and greetings tailored to each family. My goal was to have them all mail-ready by Black Friday.
I have reached the conclusion that for the most part, my people are card-carrying people.
There's something sweet about that.
This is a reprint from Donna Cronk's column in the Christmas Eve 2017 New Castle Courier-Times. where she is Neighbors and Her magazine editor.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, located five miles from Jerusalem. The church was built centuries ago on top of the traditionally recognized site of where baby Jesus was born. Currently, between 25,000 and 35,000 (I've seen both figures) live in Bethlehem. One source said at the time of Christ's birth, 1,000 or fewer residents lived there.
As a little girl going to Christmas pageant practice at the Brownsville United Methodist Church, I saw the evening lights across the Whitewater River and imagined the town as what Bethlehem might be like. After all, this was the smallest "town" I knew. And in my childhood mind, I knew that Jesus was born in a little town.
O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger were two of the most popular songs we’d learn for the pageant.
Never could I have imagined in a million years that I would one day visit Bethlehem, let alone see the very site where Jesus was born. Spoiler alert: Today it is not a manger scene.
You were expecting a manger? Well, the site that once held the best-known manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph was honored by placement of a church over it in the 4th century. It’s a complicated story to explain centuries of conflict and destruction, not even to mention the three denominations that share the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox.
Here’s one story though. Legend has it that invading Persians destroyed all Christian churches and monasteries in 614. But not this one. Why? A painting depicted the Nativity scene we would recognize today – complete with three wise men. The artist dressed the wise men in Persian clothing. The invaders honored the Persian-appearing wise men by preserving the church.
Following is my Dec. 3 New Castle Courier-Times column. I’m still thinking about ornaments today as I prepare a new Christmas program for tomorrow night's Lilac Literary Club in Hancock County. It’s about how our ornaments tell the stories of our lives.
Thirty-one years ago, I couldn’t wait to place baby Sam’s first ornament on our Christmas tree.
As the years passed, new ornaments were purchased annually first for Sam, then also for Ben when he came along. At first I did the choosing, picking out Disney and bear decorations, but as the boys got old enough to care, they got to choose their own.
It became a much-anticipated Christmas tradition to take them to the Hallmark store and select their ornaments. As the “senior” son, Sam got first dibs, and usually selected the year’s cool Batman or sports hero. Along the way came orbs depicting trends such as video games or the hot sports figure of the year.
There were athletes with staying power such as Peyton Manning, and ones who are forgotten footnotes in old box scores. There were action figures such as Spider-man and Lego creations such as a fireplace with Santa appearing to be made from them.
Several years ago, I stopped putting the collection on the big family Christmas tree. These were during the years that the boys were in their late teens and early 20s. The boys had lost their thrill of selecting new ornaments and moved on in their interests. It seemed the time for childhood ornaments had passed.
It’s funny what a few years out of circulation will do to a collection.
Our younger son, Ben, is 26 now, and this is the first Christmas he’s truly been out on his own without a roommate. On Thanksgiving, he was anxious to get back to his apartment and have Brian and I help him put up his own tree.
His lights worked great on the shimmering white tree that came intact from his small patio storage closet. But the problem was, he had no actual ornaments.
So, I offered up his childhood Hallmark ones. I don’t know which of us was more delighted – Ben over the idea of the nostalgic decorations, or me over seeing his delight.
That weekend he came home and went through the pile of Superheroes and athletes, cars and novelty items, all created with the special charm of Hallmark, in ornament form.
One by one we looked them over and he separated his stash from his brother’s and home he went with them. Later that evening, he sent us a photo and video of his decorated tree.
I had always wondered what would become of the boys’ ornaments and if they would ever want them.
I’m happy to see them enjoyed anew in their new home on their new tree – with their old boy.
Several weeks ago, this invite appeared on my desk at work.
It had nothing to do with a book program, or a feature story for the paper, and it was from someone I barely knew.
I met Irene last summer when she entered a drawing for a book giveaway celebrating women’s right to vote. She told me about how she and her husband are from the area but had moved to Florida many years ago. They moved back.
Then I did an article about Irene, and she also entered our holiday recipe contest.
With the date open, I put the tea party on my calendar. What a lovely afternoon at Irene’s sipping tea with her friends and tasting the delicious treats she kept producing from the kitchen.
We were to bring our own tea cups and Irene had us tell where we got them.
The first snow of the season brought a dusting, making the day even more festive.
Thank you, Irene, for inviting me to your authentic tea party.
I went home and made chili, wrapped gifts and watched It’s A Wonderful Life.
It is indeed.
So today I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. That’s a good place to be. It's been such a fast-paced week, I'm only now getting this posted.
After last Saturday in Indy at the newspaper conference, Sunday it was off to Centerville where I visited with shoppers, colleagues and friends in the new Artisans and Java building at the Kids at Heart Publishing mini-bookstore.
Monday night was a speaking engagement at Fishers United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Women’s Christmas gathering. I am grateful to Linda Shimer who served this year as co-president of the UMW and is also active in the church’s book club. I appreciate her support and encouragement so much.
She also wows me! In addition to her leadership role, she went and picked up and returned home a friend who couldn't get there on her own. In fact, she left so quickly following the program that I was unable to get a photo with her. Not only that but I found out that Linda and her husband MOVED last week!
Even though my connection to the church’s book club had nothing to do with my husband’s 26 years working in Fishers schools, ironically, Linda told me that several were coming who knew him. It was such a delight to see these wonderful former co-workers of Brian’s – and look up to find their smiling faces near the front of the sanctuary as I spoke.
I took their photos and texted them to Brian. He was pretty pumped about their attendance and when I got home, he took a trip down Fishers Memory Lane, reflecting on all the wonderful people he worked with during those years.
Last summer, a surprise invite came from town library director Carrie Watson to give the opening program to children in the summer reading program. I spoke on the topic, “What’s Your Clue?” about looking for our gifts and talents – even as young kids, and then later in the afternoon, I gave a second talk to the adults in a program on our bucket lists.
Carrie told me she would invite me back during the annual town Christmas walk and library open house. She even gave me the date but I didn’t put it on my calendar. I thought I should wait and see if the invite came through and guess what? It did!
I got there at 5 and enjoyed delicious hot soup samples prepared by members of the library board, and hot cocoa, served by Carrie’s adorable daughter, visited with many of the more than 100 people (probably closer to 150) who came through the library to warm up and chat with their neighbors. What a bunch of truly nice people with friendly smiles and were interested enough to stop and chat.
Carrie’s mentor, Iraida Davis, even visited the library! At age 90, it’s been a while since she directed the place but I found it touching when the two librarians posed together. Carrie says Iraida was her idol. I think she still is.
Carrie is a woman of many talents. Not only is she library director in Farmland, she is the Union Modoc library director and teaches Title 1 reading. She is a mom, a quilter, and – I kid you not – a drag racer who shows her skills all over the country.
I tried to think of how to describe Farmland, an artsy farm community with something special. The best I can do is to call out two old-time TV shows. I think Farmland is something of a blend of the two: Northern Exposure meets Mayberry.
Carrie agreed to let me write about her in a future issue of her magazine for women. Yippee!
On the ride home, the moon was huge and bright, showcasing the lovely, peaceful Hoosier farms I passed as I made my way south and west through Randolph County, then continued straight west through Henry County, and home to Madison County on U.S. 36 most of the way.
By 9:30 when I landed home, I was so tired I could hardly get from my favorite chair to draw my steaming-hot bath. But I did, then headed for bed.
It's supposed to snow this weekend; just a Christmas Chamber-of-Commerce type dusting of a couple inches.
I hope so.
Brian has always enjoyed Halloween. While he doesn’t do anything with the Christmas tree other than tell me if it is leaning to one side (a particular pet peeve of his), and yes, tell me it’s pretty once it’s all decked out, he is the one who carves our pumpkins.
At this stage in the game of life, I’d be content to plug in a fake one and carry on, but not him. He always makes a production of selecting an annual pumpkin or two and carving them.
I came across this photo of him with a Parke County pumpkin 40 years ago. This was taken in his parents’ Rockville, Indiana basement the first weekend I met them.
We had been to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival where he snagged a pumpkin (I probably got one too but don’t remember that). It was my 19th birthday weekend and Brian’s mother surprised me with a gift, a new wallet.
I’m pretty sure she made pumpkin pie. Boy, she could bake pies! In the fall there were always pumpkin pies on her counter top.
I have fond memories of trick-or-treating as a kid, throwing "spook-house" basement parties for the neighbor kids in my family's rustic basement, canvassing the neighboring farms for Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF and then going to the church basement for a party. And who can forget the full-sized chocolate bars out of Philomath?
I'm seeing a trend here ... Halloween and basements.
Then came the years of our boys and their Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. This is my favorite Halloween photo of Sam and Ben. It's actually one of my all-time favorite pictures of them period.
Last year, Brian had a little issue with his pumpkin. He carved it and set it on the porch. I wasn't paying much attention and didn't connect the dots when he asked if we had any Duct Tape. I told him we did and asked why.
"Oh, I probably won't need it," he hedged. I still didn't think anything of it.
Until the next day.
His carved pumpkin had Duct Tape wrapped around its head.
"I cut his nose off," Brian confessed.
I roared with laughter.
"It won't even show when the lights are out," he insisted.
To my surprise, he was right. The pumpkin looked just fine -- in the dark.
Here's this year's duo, carved yesterday while I was at work. Pretty cute.
What are your special Oct. 31 memories?
This week I interviewed a wonderful American.
She was born and raised in Australia.
Joy Baase of New Castle, Indiana is in her 90s, and our chat was about a story unrelated to this blog post. But during the course of the interview, we talked about many things, including how she is an English (Aussie) World War II bride, coming to her late husband's hometown to make a life together after the war.
We talked about her full life, which is still filled with faith, love, humor -- and patriotism.
Joy became an American citizen in 1953. And in her beautiful Queen's English accent, she recited The American's Creed by heart.
I am embarrassed to tell you that I did not know we had this beautiful statement of who we are. Did you? It took an immigrant to tell me, and I will forevermore be grateful.
Its original elements came from Thomas Jefferson, but it wasn't until 1918 that the creed, formally a U.S. House of Representatives resolution, was passed. The statement was penned by William Tyler Page in a contest displaying patriotism.
On this Memorial Day weekend, when we flippantly wish someone a "Happy Memorial Day," and perhaps enjoy a day away from the 9 to 5, I'm taking time to think about these words, about how no matter what an individual may think about any particular elected official, to consider that our great nation is so much bigger than any combination of temporary leaders.
It is founded on the blood of Americans who died for the freedoms we routinely take for granted. It is to them we owe our everyday, walking-around, going-doing-and- saying-what-we-please lives.
I will apologize to no one for loving this nation, its liberty, and its greatness, proven over and over in the words of the U.S. Constitution, which endures. May it endure forever.
Here is The American's Creed. Would you repeat it with me?
The American's Creed
I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon these principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.
Answer this without thinking. What is your most memorable Christmas gift?
When I see that question, the first thing that comes to mind is a stick of deodorant.
The year was 1981 and we were invited to a staff Christmas party for my husband’s school co-workers. We had moved to that west-central Indiana community the summer before, and while the job came with a raise, there were financial setbacks on the other side of the balance sheet. I no longer brought in a paycheck because with the move, the plan was for me to go to college full time, year-round, until I had a journalism degree. That meant college fees and gas to get there.
Not only that, but we left behind in Richmond a mobile home on which we were making payments, plus lot rent, as we had been unable to sell it. To make it even harder, the trailer park wouldn’t let us put out a for sale sign.
We were making it. But things were tight. So tight, in fact, that the idea of buying the gag gift for the party seemed too much to ask. So I scrounged around and wrapped up some odd thing that we had around the house. Surely, we would get in exchange some equally odd thing from someone else’s house.
Instead, our gag gift was a new stick of brand-name deodorant. The person who brought it had obviously paid for it, and it was nice and useful. This meant one less item on our personal shopping list. I remember this because now it seems comical, the look on our faces, as though we had won a lottery.
Had anyone been watching our reactions, that person would surely be confused by our inappropriate glee.
We told this story to a friend who is a couple decades older. She has a similar story that involves the Christmas her husband bought her a potato masher. The circumstances were different but the sentiment the same. They were young, and broke, and the present was a bright spot.
I suppose there are a number of morals to these stories: That living within your means is superior to buying or receiving gifts that break your budget. That delayed gratification is better than trying to grab it before its time — and then feel sick about the bills later. That at best, material gifts bring only temporary happiness. Or how sometimes shiny new presents only mean a trip to the store the day after Christmas to stand in line and return them.
But also, stories such as the gag gift and the potato masher bring to mind special memories of a place and a time, of making do but not minding because you are with the ones you love.
I’ve got 58 Christmases under my belt, but it would take me a while to remember many of the gifts, lovely though they have been, that have been under our trees. Yet that deodorant stick always comes to mind this time of year. And I smile with the memory.
This column appeared Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 in the New Castle, Indiana Courier-Times where Donna Cronk is Neighbors Editor as well as editor of the quarterly her magazine for women.
My first paid job off the family farm came during high school senior year. A friend's mother worked in management at what was then Elder-Beerman (now Carson’s) in Richmond, and she asked if I’d like a job as a dressing room monitor.
I worked several evenings a week after school from 5 to 9 and one or two weekend days. Quickly I learned the special blend of a paycheck with a store discount.
As fall gave way to the Christmas season, business boomed. It wasn’t long before they moved me around from my quiet spot of matching the number of clothes that went in with how many came out of the dressing room, and hanging up clothing from crates of incoming inventory, to filling in all over the store.
They trained me on the old-time cash registers. They were huge with a million keys, many of which you never used, and made a loud noise with each number punched in. Honestly, the machines terrified me. There could be a line of people, and if I pushed the wrong number, it required the time-consuming and embarrassing act of calling for a supervisor for a bail out while the checkout line grew still longer.
That fall and winter I worked in juniors and misses clothing, the foundations (underwear) department, at the hosiery and accessories counter, cards and stationery, behind the candy counter, in jewelry, men’s clothing, and at the upstairs restaurant’s cash register.
Generally my traveling services were needed to sub for other clerks during lunch breaks or if they were short-handed. I never knew where I’d be stationed, but the dressing room monitoring work didn’t last long once I knew how (well, sort of knew how) to use the register.
Once I was called to the service desk to wrap Christmas gifts. We used thick, red paper with green bows. I was trained to properly fold over the cut edges into a neat seam, how to properly tape the paper and finish with ribbon.
As with the other departments during the busy Christmas season, this was a hectic task. What I remember most about it is not a good memory. I was told by a supervisor that I did a terrible job wrapping gifts. “We can’t send those out,” she barked, to my humiliation.
So it is with considerable irony that anyone would ever consider me good at gift wrapping. And while I don’t know that I am, I think after being package-shamed in my first real job, I wanted to restore my dignity in that area by at least doing a presentable job going forward.
While gift bags are handy and particularly useful when something doesn’t fit well into a gift box, I still prefer wrapped boxes. The mystery of what’s inside seems to last a bit longer when unwrapping a carefully taped box and undoing a ribbon instead of a quick pull of the present out of a bag.
One of my signature moves is to tie off a package with ribbon rather than a premade bow. For the holidays, I also like to use matching themed paper.
If I’m wrapping for a shower or wedding, I add a topper for special interest. Maybe do something such as tie a pretty dish towel around the package or on top instead of a bow or wrap the present in a road map with a toy car to finish.
A few years ago, Courier-Times Editor Randy Rendfeld had a reader prize to give away at the newspaper office. He said he wished we could wrap it somehow. I said no problem, I could wrap it right then. I grabbed a color comics section from the paper, encased the gift, and then fashioned a bow from strips of another comics page and stuck it on top. I handed it back to Randy and he stared at it as though it was made of precious gems.
“No man could do that,” he said, punctuating each word, something akin to awe.
He had no idea, but his comment offered a kind of redemption.
It got even better when my sister-in-law Linda surprised me with an invite to do a program at the library where she was boss. The topic? Gift wrapping! I spent time figuring out what in the world I would say to the public about wrapping presents, then I simply started wrapping empty boxes using every trick I could think of (yes, pulling out the map and comics pages for sure).
For an activity to go with the program, I brought supplies for attendees to make and take their own gift tags.
I can’t say that I drew a crowd or even anything close, but it was fun, and an excuse to spend a day with family and even pick up my sweet friend (and Linda’s awesome mother) Lucille and bring her along. We had a lovely meal out afterward. I call the day a success. As with my former editor, I’m sure that unless Linda reads this, she had no idea why I consider it such. It was because, again, I felt redeemed from my Elder-Beerman incompetency.
The other thing, which wasn’t on my radar at the time, is that I got a charge out of being a “presenter.” I enjoyed the task of assembling a program, then the mystery involved in wondering who will attend, if they will enjoy it, and seeing how it all unfolds.
It’s the exact same feeling I have now when I put together and present a program relating to some aspect of my book themes in libraries or at clubs or banquets. I love it. If I hadn’t had the gift-wrapping run through, I’m not sure I would have felt I could even put together a presentation.
Wrapping it up -- this all goes to show how we learn and grow from every experience we have along life’s way. So often, one thing leads to the next in ways we can’t imagine at the time. Whatever we do today, no matter how humble or routine -- or unusual, it’s likely preparing us for what’s to come.